After St. Paul Schools lunch supervisor Philando Castile was shot in July 2016, St. Anthony officials voluntarily submitted their police department to a U.S. Department of Justice review.
The DOJ's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) would assess the department and recommend reforms, like improving transparency and diversity. Departments across the nation could find the results useful.
It was a peace offering to the community. Feds organized public listening sessions for citizens to weigh in, then spent months shadowing St. Anthony officers on ride-alongs and analyzing training records. Chief Jon Mangseth spoke of it as an opportunity to learn.
But then America had an election, and top administrators -- as well as the DOJ's priorities -- got shuffled.
New U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions soon released a memo ordering a review of the DOJ's reviews of troubled police departments. It signaled a shift from police reform under the Obama Administration to boosting morale for a crime crackdown under the Trump Administration. No longer would the DOJ entertain excessive force or racial bias as problems in need of federal oversight.
Recommendations from the Chicago Police Department's famously scathing DOJ review following the shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald were effortlessly sidelined. When South Carolina's Republican Sen. Tim Scott asked the DOJ for an update of its review of the North Charleston Police Department after an officer shot Walter Scott in the back in 2015, the feds responded with radio silence.
St. Anthony's review also seemed to go dark, though it was supposed to be completed by October 2017, the Pioneer Press reported.
Last week, three civil rights organizations submitted Freedom of Information Act requests to the DOJ for word on what happened.
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and Leadership Conference Education Fund, and the American Civil Liberties Union demanded documents on DOJ's investigations since January 2016, to see for themselves what guiding policies have been recently adopted by the COPS Office.
"When Sessions sent a memo out effectively halting the collaborative reform initiative program, he did this obviously without consultating with key stakeholders, such as civil rights organizations and impacted persons with very keen interest in the work of the COPS Office," says Sonia Gill Hernandez, policy counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
Cities and police departments that requested these reviews are getting the silent treatment, she said.
"We have a right to this information. There's no reason to shield it from the public."
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